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Wrantin Kullslug is the world’s greatest assassin who wields a magic, shape shifting sword named Raven that has the ability to transform between a sword and a raven at Wrantin’s command. Wrantin belongs to the order of the Maestro Kwellin (Master Killers) and is sent on some of the most difficult, bizarre, outré, and even hilarious adventures in pursuit of his marks. Ultimately, though, Wrantin and Raven begin to tire of the ceaseless call to duty and realize their love for each other is the only way to overcome the Masters of Death.

Wrantin begins his career with the impossible job of catching the Abominable Sachaware for an eccentric baron’s bizarre museum of curios. For this job, he is awarded the sword Raven. Once Wrantin and Raven are united, they venture across the world delving into the crime sewers of the world’s largest city, topple a dynasty by accomplishing the toughest assassination ever, adventuring through the fairy lands with the bard Taliesin, and live as goblins under a mountain with the Blue Knight of Gwent.

My inspirations for my fantasy writing include: Elric of Melniboné, the works of Robert E. Howard, The MabinogionBeowulfHarry Potter, the works of Tolkien, the works of Gary Gygax, anything about King Arthur, Iron Maiden, Rush, Blood Bowl, and the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

I’ve posted many stories, poems, pictures, and music to Visions of the Dark. There is one set of stories that form an overall story arc. These stories were inspired mostly by Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow. While Poe and Lovecraft tend to dominate the upper tier of the pantheon of Weird Fiction, to me, it is The King in Yellow (at least the first four stories of the volume) that creates a truly weird mood that is so unsettling. After all, Poe and Lovecraft published their stories mostly as stand-alone stories, never grouping any tales into an arc that was presented all together.

It was largely because of The King in Yellow that I decided to create the stories that I call The Other Side of Despair; all unified by insanity because it is on the other side of despair where madness lies. There are other influences, too. The story Alone was directly inspired by The Terror by Guy de Maupassant. The story The Things the Shadows Say was directly influenced by The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. There are nods to others throughout as well.

Since these stories were posted out of order with various other items posted between, I thought I would document the true order for anyone who would like to read them the way they were intended.

THE OTHER SIDE OF DESPAIR

Book 1 – The Language of the Mad includes stories:  Shockley House, Alone, The Land of Nod, The Murklor, and The Children of the Wasteland

Book 2 – Suite Insanity includes stories:  Prolegomenon to a Tragedy, Lunatic Overture, The Things the Shadows Say, Kissed by Madness, and The Prophet of Monkey Park

Donnie Black sat under the oak tree surveying the lunch crowd and chewing his fingernail. He had started to know their faces. Day in and day out, the same gaggle of people gathered here like moths drawn to a naked light bulb on the back porch.

They were the invisible population of Colorado Springs – the homeless. They congregated here because of the building across the street from Mahnke Park. It was the Marian House Soup Kitchen, a part of the Catholic Mission. After lunch, the homeless crowd would disperse once again into the local area to the city parks, street corners, makeshift shelters along Monument Creek, and other alleys and shadowy recesses until dinner called them back to the park that carried the moniker of Monkey Park.

For days Donnie had tried to screw up the nerve to address the crowd, but he just couldn’t bring himself to actually do it. He judged that there had to be close to a hundred people in the park. Donnie saw them as an inchoate army ready to be inspired by his call to action.

It took him a long time to summon the courage, but he finally surrendered to the gnawing urge inside and stood up. He walked over to the edge of the park where the wall that marked the barrier between the street and Monkey Park gradually rose until it leveled off a good twelve feet above the grass. He stepped up and walked the wall until he stood towering over the edge of the park, but then a flood of doubts returned.

*****

People with untreated serious mental illness compose approximately one-third of the total homeless population, and an even higher percentage among homeless women and among individuals who are chronically homeless. The quality of life for these individuals is abysmal. Many are victimized regularly. One study found that 28 percent of homeless people with previous psychiatric hospitalizations obtained some food from garbage cans and eight percent used garbage cans as a primary food source.

In many cities, homeless people with severe mental illnesses are now an accepted part of the urban landscape and make up a significant percentage of the homeless who wander the city streets all night, sleep on sidewalks, or hang out in the parks.

Many other homeless people hide from the eyes of most citizens. They shuffle quietly through the streets by day, talking to themselves, and they live in shelters or abandoned buildings at night. Some shelters become known as havens for these mentally ill wanderers and take on the appearance of a hospital psychiatric ward. Others who are psychiatrically ill live in the woods on the outskirts of cities, under bridges, and even in the tunnels that carry drainage water through the cities.

*****

On a bench below the wall at the edge of Monkey Park sat Lucius Rivera. He lifted his guitar onto his lap and began to play some tentative chords while he fine-tuned the instrument. Then he began to play a Saraband by Bach. At first no one took heed, but as his fingers deftly plucked the tune, those in his immediate vicinity stopped chatting and began to watch and listen.

Even as the piece ended and he launched into the next suite that had been so meticulously rehearsed at Rathbone Asylum, the majority of the crowd hadn’t taken notice. But as the undulating intro wove its somber magic, that quickly changed.

Like a pebble breaking the surface of a still pond, a ripple spread across the mass of vagrants milling about the park. Eyes darted, heads turned, conversations stopped, and a hush spread over Monkey Park until the only discernable sound was the strains of melancholic harmony that crooned from the guitar.

They shuffled, they ambled, they coalesced towards Lucius as the spell of the music washed over them. Now, the tune intensified into a polyphonic interplay of aeolian rapture. An undercurrent of caliginous timbre resonated over the crowd, and they began to sway in unison, entwined in the web of the bewitching sonority of the Suite Insanity.

All the while, Donnie Black loomed over the spectacle, standing upon the wall transfixed.

*****

At first, Tom Nelson had thought the request from one of his guitar students was ridiculous. Mike Sheffield had acquired the video from his neighbor who was a nurse at a mental institution and brought it to him at one of their lessons. The video depicted one of the patients playing what appeared to be a finger-style guitar piece. It only appeared that way because the video had no audio. The strangest part was that Mike asked Tom if he thought he could play it.

At first, Tom gave Mike a half-hearted agreement to try, but as Tom watched the man in the video perform the piece, he became somewhat intrigued. There was no denying that the man had impeccable technique; he wasn’t merely noodling around.

At home, Tom tried initially to play the video in slow motion and replicate it on his own nylon-stringed guitar. This turned out to be more difficult than he bargained for, though. The man’s playing, it turned out, was deceptively good.

Tom, who loved a technical challenge anyway, wound up spending several days trying to come up with a solution that would give voice to this mysterious piece of music being performed by the strange man.

Finally, Tom had hit upon an ingenious solution. It required him to slow the video down to such a degree that he could visualize which string the man’s right hand was plucking and which note the left hand was fingering. He recorded these notes on musical staff paper with no regard to the tempo or timing. This was, in and of itself, a long, arduous process that took many days.

Having finished this process, the next phase was to interpret the timing and tempo in real time. This was made somewhat easier by the use of a metronome and interpreting, not just the man’s hands, but also his body language. The man swayed his head, and sometimes even his entire body, during parts of the performance. One section was monumentally difficult until Tom realized that the section in question was in the odd time signature of five-four time.

Finally, having sketched what he believed to be a close approximation of the note values and time signatures, Tom used a musical notation software program to enter the score.

The entire process had taken over three weeks of intermittent, though diligent, work. Now, as he finished the manual entry of the notes into the program, Tom adjusted the computer’s speaker volume and pressed the play button.

*****

While Lucius Rivera poured his talents into the performance and the group of homeless people gathered before him, two men entered Monkey Park on the opposite side of the green. One man was tall and sported a black goatee, the other man was withdrawn and hugged a small box to his chest. Both men sat down on a bench.

*****

After the last note had faded, the crowd of homeless people stared transfixed at Lucius Rivera. Lucius removed the guitar from his lap, propped it against the bench, and turned to nod at Donnie. Donnie took a deep breath and cleared his throat. In unison, all eyes shifted to Donnie standing upon the wall. Suddenly, in a loud, primal scream he bellowed, “Wake Up!” An audible spasm of flinching humans sounded through the park. Then, Donnie Black began his first sermon to the strange mélange of homeless people gathered below.

*****

Walter Rathbone and Charlie Dithers continued to sit on the bench as Donnie launched into his sermon. Rathbone had quietly clapped at the end of Lucius’ performance, but Charlie had not even acknowledged that he was aware of it. Charlie merely cuddled the box in his lap and rocked gently.

*****

“Wake Up! The Lullaby of Their song has stricken us all. Who are we? Why are we here? What shall we do? What shall we become? Listen to me, for I am the key to ascension who will teach you of the coming plague and why it is us, the ghosts of their power-mad world, who shall rise and take our rightful place.

We line up here day upon day like dogs begging scraps from their table, but they don’t care for us. We’re just the shadow people of their society. Outcasts, riff raff, vagabonds, the poor, the meek, the infirm, and the scourge that they can’t bear to so much as look at. Why? Because they fear us in them. That’s right. We’re all flawed. They’re all flawed too. All of our flaws are the same and run through everything. But they ignore their flaws while we embrace our flaws. We wear our flaws like a badge of honor. Like a war scar that gives us passion and desire to live our naked existence. It is our flaws that give us the Vision.

We see a world beyond the illusions of their society. They cannot see that world. They are too blind by their own ignorance and their own inability to embrace the true reality out there. It is like a great light this illusion of the real. They huddle around it too close to see anything else. And the light bathes them and cast shadows. We are those shadows. We are the ones on the periphery gazing out into the cold, black night of Truth. We are the ones with the strength to see.

Some of us see it one way, some another, and yet others – lone individuals among us – see aspects that no other man or woman can see. And just what is it we’re all seeing in the dark? It is the demons that are descending upon the light.

Don’t you see? Their illusion of their society is doomed. The dwellers in the dark cannot abide the light. They cannot tolerate its existence. So, they must crush it. There is no stopping this oncoming horde of demons. At least not without us who have the True Sight. We are their guardians and yet, they revile us and mock us and spit on us and toss us scraps and loose change to make themselves feel good about abusing us. If you piss on a man then you are horrible, but if you give a man a dollar and piss on him then he somehow deserves your gift? Is this how it is? That’s how they think it is.

Despair not, my brothers and sisters. Lend me your visions and I’ll use the key of ascension to decipher the demons. Together, we shall assume our mantles as armor against the oncoming night. And when the demons have dashed them and their precious light out, we shall rise to become the new legion!”

*****

While Donnie inspired his army, Walter Rathbone rose from the bench. He turned to Charlie and said, “So long, Charlie.” Looking at the box he continued, “Once they are free, so are you, old friend.” And with that, he disappeared back into the trees from which the two had emerged.

Charlie, making no response to Rathbone, lifted the lid to the box and looked upon its contents. Three wriggling, pale, worm-like larvae writhed and churned in a shallow bed of dirt. Charlie thought that the park might be a good home for one. Once he found homes for the other two, who knew what glorious future lay in store.

“Father, you obviously believe people have souls, right?”

“Yes.”

“Do you believe that places have souls?”

“Hmmm, I don’t think so. I guess I’ve never really thought about it.”

“Well, I do. I know they do.”

“You do?”

“Yes, and that’s the nature of my sin.”

“How’s that?”

“Because I helped a man, um, relocate a place’s spirit to a new place.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t quite follow.”

“It was a nasty place. A nasty soul. And it had outlived the people who had lived there. It was suffering with loneliness. So, I helped the man with what needed to be done. I helped the place’s soul.”

“What man?”

“I don’t really know the man. I can guess. He was probably just an incarnation of Him, though. That really doesn’t matter. What matters is the place.”

“What place then?”

“The soul of Shockley House.”

“Shockley House. I don’t believe I know it.”

“And you wouldn’t. Like I said, it was a lonely place that no one visited any longer.”

“And I’m to understand that you moved the house?”

“No. Not the house. I told you, it was the soul of the place. The malignant, horrible spirit of Shockley House.”

“And now it resides somewhere else?”

“Yes. Now it is the spirit of Rathbone Asylum.”

“But that’s here.”

“Yes. I know.”

****

Dr. Carlson: “What’s the story with Patient Dithers? The one everyone calls Old Charlie. Has he ever been communicative, or has he always been catatonic?”

Dr. Harris: “Oh, Old Charlie used to be very much the talker. His unresponsive state was a gradual thing. I’m afraid he’s completely gone to us now, but his tale is quite bizarre.”

Dr. Carlson: “Bizarre how?”

Dr. Harris: “Do you know the story of Shockley House, Lisa?”

Dr. Carlson: “Shockley House. Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a while. The legend of an old, haunted asylum up in Denver? A cautionary tale of horrifying and barbaric psychiatric practices that someone told me in school, I believe.”

Dr. Harris: “Well, it’s not a legend, even though the place is no longer standing. In many ways it was the forerunner of this place. Walter Rathbone acquired the property and had it demolished before relocating here in Castle Rock and building our institution.”

Dr. Carlson: “Really? I had no idea. But what does that have to do with Old Charlie? Was he a patient at Shockley House?”

Dr. Harris: “No, not a patient then. He used to be a police officer and was the first to arrive on the scene the night that Dr. Matthew Remy went crazy, killed a resident and a nurse, and then committed suicide.”

****

Charlie Dithers sat at the bar peeling the label off a beer while he watched the neon sign in the window flicker and buzz. He had lost count of the hours he had been sitting there sucking down beer and thinking about the last few weeks of his life. He had seen all kinds of crazy shit in the eight years he was a cop, but that night at the old Shockley place made the other stuff pale in comparison.

There were so many hellacious images that fought for a spot in his memory but the one that haunted him the most was the face of that lunatic nurse with those things jutting out of her eyes while she giggled and pushed the dead body of the doctor swinging from the roof.

He tried to go back to work and pretend that that night would recede into a mishmash of all the other demented things he had witnessed, but the nightmares were relentless. And they didn’t just come at night, either. Throughout the day they popped unbidden into his mind, and he was forced to dwell on them day and night.

After a couple of weeks, he decided some vacation time was in order. He never told his sergeant why. He didn’t need the fellows at the station knowing he was getting thin skinned and recommending he go see a shrink. That was a career killer. Instead, he made some lame excuse and pretended everything was hunky-dory.

And this was day three of vacation. He lit another cigarette and watched a tall, lean man walk in the bar. For some reason he couldn’t quite place, Charlie’s first impression was that the man was sinister. The man scanned the bar and then took a seat several feet away. The barkeep, emerging from the back with an armload of beer asked, “What’ll you have, friend?”

“Bourbon and Coke.” The man’s voice was deep and slow. He sat down and turned to look directly at Charlie. A wave of discomfort slithered through Charlie. The man reached out a hand and said, “Officer Dithers, my name is Walter Rathbone. I would like to talk to you about the Shockley House.”

****

“Look at her, Charlie. She’s been kissed by madness. Now that her eyes are ruined, what do you think she really sees?”

Charlie fidgeted uncomfortably and tried to force himself to look at the woman. She sat in an easy chair with her legs drawn up, her arms hugging them as she rocked back and forth ever so slightly. She was gaunt and still had a bandage wrapped around her head that covered her eyes. Her mouth was open, and she sang a low mewling song that was barely audible.

Charlie thought back to the last time he had seen Edith, the nurse he had found in the upper room of Shockley House with those horrible instruments protruding from each eye as she laughed maniacally, covered in her own blood.

Charlie looked at Dr. Rathbone and said, “Sees?”

“Yes, she sees a different world now, Charlie. What do suppose that world looks like?”

“I don’t know. I think she’s off her rocker. She’s lost it.”

“Obviously she’s mad,” Rathbone said as he stroked his black goatee. “But that doesn’t mean that her world is any less real than this one. Even a lunatic’s world has structure. There are rules and laws; a coherence that allows for her story to continue. We’re all but characters in a story that gives our lives meaning. Does your story have meaning, Charlie Dithers?”

Charlie didn’t know how to answer that. He thought it did, but lately, things were altering the narrative in a way he didn’t like and didn’t fully comprehend. Was this man just messing with him? Was it all some elaborate scheme? Or was this man really trying to show him something that would help explain all the madness?

Charlie’s head was throbbing, and he was tired of the place where Rathbone had brought him. Just being with Edith, seeing her this way, made him want to get away and have a drink.

“What do you want from me?” It was the only thing Charlie could think to say.

“I want you to understand.”

“Understand what?”

“Their story. Their language. I want you to understand what happened that night. It is the only way you’ll ever have peace of mind.”

Rathbone leaned down close to Edith’s ear and whispered something that Charlie couldn’t make out. Edith’s mouth snapped shut and she stopped her rocking. As Rathbone stood up Edith began to giggle.

“Come on, Charlie. Let’s go get you that drink.”

As they walked out, Edith’s giggling beat in time to the pounding in Charlie’s head.

****

“I don’t know why I’m so nervous to meet him,” Charlie said as he wrung his hands. He and Rathbone sat on a park bench. Rathbone had one leg crossed over the other and his arm stretched across the back of the bench. He looked as relaxed as a cat napping in the sunshine. Charlie, on the other hand was a nervous wreck. He sat forward with his elbows on his knees, legs shaking, and his eyes darting here and there.

“Well, you haven’t seen Dr. Ballinger since that night,” Rathbone said, as if that explained everything.

“What do I say to him?”

“I think it would be best if you let him begin; then you’ll know what to say.”

“Was it his idea or yours?” Charlie said.

“Honestly, Charlie, it was my idea; although Keith Ballinger didn’t completely understand that he needed to pass along a message to you until I helped him see it.”

“A message? What kind of message?”

“I’ll let him deliver it. Here he is now.”

Charlie looked around but didn’t see anyone approaching. Confused, he said, “Where?”

Rathbone raised an arm and pointed upward. “There.”

Charlie’s gaze followed his finger across the street to the top of the building. Charlie could see the man pulling himself up onto the low wall that enclosed the roof of the tall building. It had to be at least 15-stories tall. Charlie shot up and began to shout as he ran towards the street and waved his arms. A few people paused to regard Charlie. As he neared the street several pedestrians realized what he was yelling about. By the time a small, shocked crowd began to form, Ballinger was standing atop the wall with his arms outstretched.

And then he was falling.

Charlie Dithers watched in horror as Keith Ballinger struck the pavement with a sickening thunk.

****

“The story goes that when General Larimer came down to the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek to begin staking claims for what would become Denver City, he was approached by an Arapaho Indian named Little Dog. This was in November of 1858. Little Dog warned him about a certain place that the land speculator was trying to sell claims for settlement.

“You can guess which plot of land that was. It was where Shockley house would be built. But the reason that Little Dog gave Larimer is the interesting part. You see, that piece of land had a bad reputation that far back – and likely even much further back than the 1800’s if truth be told.

“The Indians shunned that place. Legend says that bad things befell those who crossed that place. Madness and death were born there and all who were tainted by it poisoned those around them with it. These things I know to be true. Don’t ask me how I know this; but I do.”

****

Charlie Dithers wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.  He had just lost the contents of his stomach and was still bent over the vile mess upon the ground. He closed his eyes and fought to regain his normal breathing.

What the hell had he just witnessed?

Many times, he had thought about killing Rathbone because he knew he was a monster, but he had just seen a true monster. Not a despicable human who could be called a monster. But a living, in-the-flesh monster.

Now he knew that there was no way he could kill Rathbone. Not after what he had just seen emerge from the blackened and charred remains of Shockley House at the behest of that demon Walter Rathbone.

Rathbone had brought Charlie and a man named Demetrius Hob to the old place. Poor Hob was a basket case. He was barely coherent and constantly twitched and shook. Rathbone told Charlie that Hob was one of the few survivors of that night at Shockley House. Charlie faintly remembered the man. Everything from that night was just a jumble of horrors and nightmares, so it was hard to say.

As they stepped through the debris, Rathbone bade for Hob to sit down while he and Charlie continued to step through the rubble. And then Rathbone placed his hand on Charlie’s shoulder causing him to stop. Rathbone pointed towards the spot where Hob sat and then he called in low, crooning voice some twisted, alien phrase. For a moment nothing happened. Charlie looked between the two men confused and then he heard it.

From beneath the ground there arose the sound of shifting earth and debris being thrown aside. And then the thing emerged. It was a sickly pale worm-like creature with the face of a grotesque parody of a human – maybe an ape. It had appendages. Not mammalian or insect appendages, but slithering, rope-like tentacles with barbs or thick hair. How many, Charlie couldn’t say. It rose above Hob who just looked at incomprehensibly. The thing opened its maw of needle-like teeth to an unbelievable size. Then the beast fell upon him.

It was a ghastly, sickening scene to behold with blood, gore, and the loud crunching of bones. Rathbone began to laugh and that’s when Charlie lost his stomach.

****

Dr. Harris: “Charlie, you said you weren’t there the night Shockley House burned down. How do you know about it then?”

Charlie: “He told me all about it.”

Dr. Harris: “Who? Rathbone?”

Charlie: “Yes, of course. He said it needed to happen to prepare the way. He would’ve made me go too but I was hiding from him. He probably knew where I was and would’ve made me go if he really wanted me to.”

Dr. Harris: “I see. Why do think you are so important to him, Charlie?”

Charlie: “It’s not that I’m important to Rathbone. God, he detests me. I’m important to that thing.”

Dr. Harris: “In what way?”

Charlie: “It’s inexplicable, really. For some unknown reason, I can speak to it.”

Dr. Harris: “Like, another language?”

Charlie: “Something like that. It’s nothing I ever learned. It just comes to me unbidden. But we were talking about the night that Shockley House burned down.”

Dr. Harris: “Right, go on.”

Charlie: “The one he really needed that night was Donald. He was one of the surviving patients that was there the night that Remy lost it.”

Dr. Harris: “So, Rathbone took Donald to the house?”

Charlie: “Yes. He made Donald the sacrifice. He sent Donald into the house; deep into the basement and somehow had him trigger the explosion that caused the fire and destruction.”

Dr. Harris: “So Donald died in the house?”

Charlie: “Oh, yes. It was the plan all along. Rathbone planned every little step.”

Dr. Harris: “For what purpose, Charlie?”

Charlie: “To clear the way so that I might bring the white worm here to Rathbone Asylum.”

****

From that moment on, it spoke to Charlie in a low, mental crooning that circled his brain incessantly saying, 

“AhCharlieIcan’tbegintothankyouenoughforallofthesacrificesyou’vemadetobringmehereYoudoknowjusthowimportantourworkisdon’tyouLetmetryandhelpyouseethingsintheproperperspectivemyboyAllofthesepoorsoulsareblessedwiththeabilitytoseeworldsbeyondtheonethatmostmenexperienceTheyarecalledmadyettheyarenottrulyTheyaregiftedAnditisIwhohelpthemtofullyexperiencethegloryoftheworldtheyescapeintoEverylifehasastoryanarrativethatgivesmeaningtotheirworldCanitbehelpediftheyarecalledinsanejustbecausethatotherrealmisfracturedanddisjointedItrequiresacertainpowertoprovidethatcoherencetotheworldtheyaredistancedfromSomewouldcallitanalternatedimensionImaginetheirfrustrationwhentheycanonlyaccessthatotherdimensioninbitsandsnatchesThatiswhatismaddeningImerelyhelpthemcrossoverandexperiencethoseotherdimensionstotheirfullnessWhileitmightappearthattheyarejustprisonersofthishorridplaceinrealitytheyaremostlyoffwritingtheirtruelifestoriesExploringadventuringstrugglinglovingfightinglivingafullerandricherlifeComenowCharlieandletmehelpyousharetheirstoriesnowHaveyoufoundtheYellowSignIlongforHaliandthecloudydepthsofDemhe . . .”

Dear Dr. Harris,

By the time you read this you will have, no doubt, heard of the details of my suicide. It was no small feat to arrange the necessary method in this institution, the security measures being what they are. But, as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. It is my final wish that you read this explanation of my condition and share it with my family, so they understand as well. I’ve tried on numerous occasions to express what is presented here to you and your staff, but I am received with skepticism and patronizing dismissals.

Just so you know, up until last night, I was happy in my confinement here at the Rathbone Asylum. The events that led to my institutionalization I will recount here. While I was initially placed here in a state of great emotional anguish, I grew quite happy with the arrangement. Why? Well, that’s because I am literally never alone here. But something changed last night and to understand that you must hear the whole tale.

Everything came to a head when my girlfriend Heather finally had enough. She said I was smothering her. She was right, you know. That’s exactly what I was doing. Hell, I meant to do it. It was my plan all along. I don’t mean that I literally tried to smother her. I wasn’t trying to choke her or anything. I mean that I needed to be with her constantly. And not out of some driving passion or exceeding love. I mean, I did love her. I suppose it would have never evolved into anything serious, though. I don’t know, but the reason I smothered her was because I needed her companionship.

I went so far as to take a job that had a schedule that was as close to hers as possible. And if she left the apartment I had to go too. While we were at home, I had to be wherever she was. I couldn’t help it. I knew she would tire of it sooner or later. I can’t blame her.

Again, the whole reason is because I can’t tolerate being alone.

Why? Because I’m being haunted by something. I know it sounds absurd and I know it’s probably all in my mind. But a part of me knows it’s out there and not in here. And I feel it’s always watching. If I’m with someone else, it’s not so bad – like it’s watching from a distance – but when I’m alone! God, when I’m alone, it’s right beside me! Leering at me!

I can’t see it. It’s just a presence I feel. Surely, you’ve experienced the feeling before. Maybe you’ve been alone in your room and you have a sudden feeling that something is watching from the darkness of the closet, or you’re in the bathroom and you have a sudden sensation that when you look up into the mirror that there will be something behind you in your reflection, or maybe you’re walking alone at night and as the realization of your isolation dawns on you, it’s quickly followed by the feeling that something, somewhere around you is watching you. Do you know what I’m talking about?

Now imagine that feeling turning into a palpable, ever present, and hideously chronic feeling! A horrible feeling of being stared at. An overwhelming feeling of alien eyes probing you. A gnawing at your brain! Good God, don’t you see? There’s no difference in whether it’s a real haunting or a fabrication of my mind! Because either way, it’s driving me mad!

I can pinpoint when it started. It was one night back in September of last year. Have you ever heard of the artist Shaun Kesner? He enjoyed a temporary fame among the eccentric artists. Kesner was a talented enough artist but had too much of a bent toward the dark and melancholy for most people’s tastes. I hear he eventually went loony himself.

Anyway, George Degnan, an acquaintance of mine, acquired one of Kesner’s pieces. So back in September, George has this house party and I go. The party was fine enough. Not much to speak of really. In the wee hours, after the party had thinned out a bit, this girl – I seem to recall her name was Daphne or Diane or something like that – pulls out a Ouija board.

Now, I didn’t sit and mess with the silly thing, but I do believe that it is somehow part of the cause. Things began to get weird. Very surreal, you know. These people are gathered around the Ouija board in almost like a trance and there’s music blaring almost hypnotically, I’m drunk, and then I feel this wave of nausea just hit me like a huge wave at the beach. So, I race to the bathroom but there’s someone in there. I had to go into George’s room. He has another bathroom in there.

I barely make it to the bathroom before losing it. It was horrible but I felt a little better. At least well enough to attempt to get home. So, I’m walking through George’s bedroom when the feeling hits me. Something is watching me from his closet. Just a little fleeting feeling, but enough to make me go investigate the closet. I open it and turn on the light and my attention is drawn to Kesner’s painting. It was on the floor propped against the wall and covered with a cloth. I mean, I didn’t know it was Kesner’s painting under there. I was just compelled to uncover it and see it.

It was a horrible, suggestive thing. It was a dark figure buried in the shadows of some strange structure. The only light cast upon it revealed a portion of its hate-filled eyes. I don’t know how long I stood there staring at it while the music throbbed and the people chanted over that damn Ouija board; but I finally broke the gaze and proceeded to destroy the painting!

Yes, I ripped it to shreds. George doesn’t know it was me. Hell, he may not even know that the painting has been destroyed because I covered the frame back up and placed it back in the closet. Even if he did discover it, there were so many people in and out of the place all night long that it would be impossible for him to know it was me.

What happened next? I fled the party. I went home and was so drunk and felt so awful that I fell into a deep sleep. But when I woke up the thing was there.

Not physically there. I mean its presence was there. I felt it watching me again. Just as if I were looking at that awful painting all over again.

That’s when the nightmare began. Since that time, I haven’t had a single moment of solitude. The first few weeks were the worst because that was before Heather. I was living alone and, God, it’s so much worse when I’m alone. It’s oppressive. It watches, constantly glaring at me from some indeterminate place. I went without sleep for days until I literally fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. I couldn’t go on like that! I had to get out of there!

I sought out places where there were people so I wouldn’t be alone with it. I still feel its presence even around people, but it’s not as palpable as when I’m alone.

I feel it now! Of course, I do. It never leaves me alone. Never for a moment. It’s here with me right now. The damned beast!

I began going to stores, the mall, restaurants, clubs, anywhere that people would be. I eventually began to spend a lot of time at the library. It became my haven. A place where I felt unbothered, yet still around a crowd. That’s when I began to research just what I could be dealing with.

Of course, I had to determine if it was just my imagination. I admitted to myself that I could be off my rocker. A loose nut in the head, a crossed wire in the circuits, some hypnotic suggestion from the Ouija group, or subliminal message planted into my subconscious. But I finally thought that it could be one of a handful of irrational phobias spun out of control in my head.

I can name all the pertinent ones. Fear of being alone: Autophobia, Isolophobia, and Monophobia. Fear of eyes or being stared at: Ommetaphobia, Ophthalmophobia, Scopophobia. Oh, Psychiatrists have names for all sorts of fears. But, in the end, there was more to my predicament.

I wasn’t truly afraid of being alone. I want to enjoy the peace of being alone, for God’s sake! It’s just that when I’m alone, it’s always there too. So, I’m never truly alone. And I don’t mind eyes or being stared at. I don’t feel like I’m being stared at by anyone else. You see my point? I just don’t enjoy being leered at by him. It’s like he’s studying me, taunting me, tormenting as he bides his time for some final blow!

I finally found a case, though. A case like mine. It was such a comfort to know that I wasn’t crazy!

The case was about one Mr. Raymon. He began to be haunted by a presence one night when he returned home to find a visitor sitting in front of his fireplace. Upon going to greet the visitor he discovered that the chair which held the form was empty. From that night onward his experiences were quite similar to mine.

What happened to him? How did he overcome it?

Well, that’s the strategy I was pursuing up until Heather and I broke up. Mr. Raymon married for the only reason of having a constant companion to minimize the opportunities of being alone. After I fell upon this simple, yet effective strategy, I began searching for someone in eagerness.

I knew that Heather couldn’t take it forever and that it was just a matter of time before she finally grew tired of me suffocating her.

Did I tell her about the thing? God no! She would’ve thought me a kook and sent me packing.

Heather had become suspicious of my behavior. Her friends had finally got the nerve to say something about how I never let her out of the apartment without being tied to her hip. Girls’ night out, I suppose, was the thing that started it. Her friends had been hounding her for several months.

I knew that I would eventually have to cave in or else it would be over with us. So, I finally gathered my resolve and decided to endure an evening alone while Heather enjoyed a night out with her girls.

I tried to pretend I wasn’t alone. I put on the television and turned up the sound so that it filled the empty space. But the feeling crawled into my awareness. Just a strange little gnawing that someone was with me. Somewhere hovering out of sight. Like a presence in my periphery.

At first, I tried to ignore it and tell myself that it was silly. That I was being paranoid and over thinking the sensation. But it was impossible to push it away. And then it just grew! My heart started racing and I felt those awful eyes boring into me. I kept looking around trying to figure out just where it was located but there was nothing there. Nothing I could see, anyway. But I tell you, it was there! It was there in the room with me!

I fled the apartment. I knew where Heather and her friends would be, and I went there. A part of me knew it was a terrible idea to crash her and her friend’s night out, but the irrational portion of my brain drove me to find my companion who I knew would help me to drive the thing away as she’d done for so many months.

Well, you can guess the disaster that ensued when I came barging into the club, frantic and unnerved. The joyous mood of their night out was immediately spoiled. Heather was embarrassed and flew into a mad rage. She berated me and I could do nothing but take it. I really don’t blame her for her reaction.

She told me that when she came home, she didn’t want to find me still there.

I walked the city streets in a stupor, ashamed of my behavior and my juvenile actions. I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t my fault. It was the damn thing that haunted me. It had haunted me ever since that night I gazed into that grotesque painting of Kesner’s while those tittering witches chanted over that Ouija board!

Then, suddenly, I was stirred from my reverie and realized that while I was still walking through the city, I was completely alone. There were no pedestrians, no cars going by, no people to be seen anywhere around me. And like a raging tsunami, the feeling of the thing’s presence slammed into me! My gaze darted here and there. There were just so many places that it could be. It was overwhelming! I was fraught with terror! I began to hurry and then jog and then I was running, desperately searching for someone. Anyone at all!

Then I passed the alley and had to stop, frozen in terror. It was exactly as Kesner had depicted it in the painting! The buildings framed the alley like some strange, alien structure. The shadows were deep, and I knew it was in there. Buried in the shadows watching me. And as I stared, I beheld those hate-filled eyes emerge from the shadows. And then the rest of its head emerged from the shadows! It was horrible and inhuman! What kind of ghoulish, nightmare creature I cannot say, but I ran!

I don’t recall what happened next. I was a raving maniac, though. I blacked it all out. Somehow, I’m told, the authorities intervened, and I was brought in. That led to my current arrangement. As I said, at first it was against my will, but after I settled down and took stock of my situation, I found I rather enjoyed the fact that there is always someone around me. And that was the situation for the last couple of months.

Then, last night, things took an even more sinister turn. It happened while Albert and I were playing chess in the game room. Of course, the thing was there too. As I said, it’s always there but it doesn’t exert as much of an influence when other people are present. Then, the game was interrupted by the shrieks of Gladys. She had been sitting across the room engaged in some other activity. She was pointing and screaming as she tried to back out of the room. I turned to look at what she was pointing at and realized that she was pointing at where I felt the presence to be. She saw it!

Several members of the staff rushed into the room to try and discern the source of her distress and I heard her say, “Can’t you see it? Can’t you see the creature? Its eyes! My God, its eyes!” Gladys was quickly removed from the room and, no doubt, sedated.

This served to unnerve me to such a degree that I could hardly function. I left the game and went into the T.V. room, which held many more people. I paced the room and tried to focus on the show playing on the T.V. Eventually, I calmed down enough to sit down and watch the movie.

It wasn’t long, however, before Big John, who has quite lost his faculties, patted me on the leg and said, “Why is that thing looking at you so hard?”

“You can see it?” I asked incredulously.

“Well, of course. He’s right there,” he said pointing.

I didn’t sleep at all last night. The implications of these events were too horrible. Obviously, the fragile minds in this place lack some crucial filter that allows them sight beyond the normal person’s perceptions. I’m afraid it’s just a matter of time before I descend to their ranks.

Today there were several more incidents. Darryl, Emily, and Calvin all claimed to witness the beast’s presence. I cannot tolerate this existence. It seems the one place where I could reside surrounded by companions who would help save me from my plight has become a prison, a hell too excruciating to endure.

Even now, the beast sits beside me, staring at me with the hatred of a legion of demons. Cruel, vile, and maddening! And now I will place this statement in the box upon your door and I will stroll off into the peace of oblivion – all for the simple fact that I can never be truly alone.

Nash Farragut

Reverend Kirk was taken down

By the Welkin wit and guile

He was ushered underground

To face the Fairy trial

He was born the seventh son

And saw with second sight

A saintly man who didn’t shun

Such a pagan Pixie rite

___

The Commonwealth of the Fairy rings

Down in Doon Hill

The Seelie Court of the Dawn Queen sings

Down in Doon Hill

The Unseelie Host brays and screams

Down in Down Hill

All the while Robert Kirk dreams

Down in Doon Hill

___

The Reverend journeyed to the Netherworld

Saw wonderous sights so grand

Fairy lights that twinkled and twirled

And Brownies hand in hand

Satyrs and Sylphs dancing with delight

To a merry piping flute

Sparkling streamers in flitting flight

To an Elven trumpet toot

___

The Commonwealth of the Fairy rings

Down in Doon Hill

The Seelie Court of the Dawn Queen sings

Down in Doon Hill

The Unseelie Host brays and screams

Down in Down Hill

All the while Robert Kirk dreams

Down in Doon Hill

___

A hush hangs as Robert appears

The Seelie Fey hide swift

Queen Glenowen must allay their fears

For she recognizes Robert’s gift

May they always welcome the Minister merrily

Amongst the Seelie Fey

But woe to him should he unwarily

Unto the Unseelie stray

___

The Commonwealth of the Fairy rings

Down in Doon Hill

The Seelie Court of the Dawn Queen sings

Down in Doon Hill

The Unseelie Host brays and screams

Down in Down Hill

All the while Robert Kirk dreams

Down in Doon Hill

___

After years of jaunts beneath the soil

His luck hard turned to gloom

The Unseelie, wary of the priest of Aberfoyle

Led him to his doom

Through subtle sound and lights misseen

He was led astray

By Red-Capped Gnomes and Goblins green

Where he remains this day

___

The Commonwealth of the Fairy rings

Down in Doon Hill

The Seelie Court of the Dawn Queen sings

Down in Doon Hill

The Unseelie Host brays and screams

Down in Down Hill

All the while Robert Kirk dreams

Down in Doon Hill

I’ve cried so many tears, ‘tis enough to fill the sea
For my bonny Johnny Johnstone has gone to Lockerbie
My honor bound beau, don your jack, steel your hands
And heed your Lord’s call to join the other riding clans
From the glens of Annandale to the rolling Debatable Lands
Come the Armstrongs and the Scotts to join us at Dryfe Sands
He tipped his bonnet proudly, atop his gallant roan
And I pray you’ll return to me, my bonny Johnny Johnstone
For I can’t endure this world alone
Without my bonny Johnny Johnstone

___

The Lord Maxwell defied King James in fifteen eighty-four
Then the Laird’s brother cut down Cranston and Lammie at Crawfordmoor
But the fuse was lit to the fiery feud when they burned down Lochwood Tower
They took as prisoner the Lord of Annandale who died bereft of power
John Maxwell became the Warden of the West, his favor being restored
But not James Johnstone, the dead Laird’s son, whose honor was deplored
In less than ten, the feud began again, with Johnstone thievery
But a Crichton of Sanquhar trod him down and hung him from a tree

___

Fi Ti El On
And cut ‘em to the bone
We will reive and rend
Till we put an end
To Clan Johnstone

___

Well, Willy Johnstone escaped the Crichtons and raised a powerful band
And back they went to Annandale and reived the entire land
Douglas, Kirkpatrick, Crichton, and Stuart flocked to Maxwell’s side
But Johnstone, Scott, Eliot, Armstrong, and Graham, were saddled up to ride
They surprised a force at Lochmaben Church and avenged Lochwood’s razing
In the Kirk they trapped Robert Maxwell and set the Church ablazing
And young Johnny Johnstone who left his wife Mary crying in the dale
Has joined his kin in Annandale to face the army of Clan Maxwell

___

Fi Ta Ru El
Through strath and through dale
We will reive and rend
Till we put an end
To Clan Maxwell

___

The Johnstone’s took the higher ground between the Dryfe and Annan
The Maxwell clans were two thousand strong and bristling to a man
Johnny and some cousins rode like hares before the hounds
Like howling fiends, the Maxwells screamed, and were led to the lower grounds
Up the hill, young Johnny flew, to join his kinsmen kept in hold
Just in time to turn and see the terrible scene unfold
From every side Johnstone men descended with lance, sword, and knife
And in that savage slaughtering field, young Johnny lost his life

___

Fi Ta Ru El
Through strath and through dale
We will reive and rend
Till we put an end
To Clan Maxwell

___

And sometimes Mary will return to place flowers where Johnny fell
She somehow always knew her love would not survive that day of hell
The terrible Johnstone Maxwell feud, that was fought in Annandale
For while Johnny was a bonny Johnstone, his mother was a Maxwell

___

I’ve cried so many tears, ‘tis enough to fill the sea
For my bonny Johnny Johnstone has gone to Lockerbie
My honor bound beau, don your jack, steel your hands
And heed your Lord’s call to join the other riding clans
From the glens of Annandale to the rolling Debatable Lands
Come the Armstrongs and the Scotts to join us at Dryfe Sands
He tipped his bonnet proudly, atop his gallant roan
And I pray you’ll return to me, my bonny Johnny Johnstone
For I can’t endure this world alone
Without my bonny Johnny Johnstone

When the McCullys moved into the house in Whiting

         Valley, there was one peculiar room.

While the rest of the place was inviting

         and cheery, the den oozed gloom.

___

Daniel and Sue certainly found the room dank

         and chilly, as did little Claire.

Young Ben, though just a toddler, claimed it stank

         of yuck. It was true, to be fair.

___

But Gus the cat, well, he simply refused

         to enter, not even for a mouse.

Last, there was Molly, apparently confused

         about avoiding the spookiest room in the house.

___

One day Molly, as Ben said, was “explorian”

         about in the mildewy dark place.

She found a planchette and an antique Victorian

         Ouija board in a secret, hidden space.

___

Molly convinced little sister Claire to partake

         in a “game” where spirits could express.

Fingers lightly atop, the planchette began to shake

         and skitter, spelling B – R – I – N – G – M – E – G – U – S.

___

It was a bit of a struggle, it took some sneaking,

         pouncing, and trapping him under the bed.

They brought Gus in the den mewling, freaking

         out, and hissing, then he keeled over dead.

___

The girls were shocked and so they decided

         it might be best to avoid the spirit guide.

They replaced the board in the hidey-hole and never confided

         to their parents about how Gus really died.

___

Many months passed until their parents found

         in the space they thought unexplored.

Daniel and Sue were cleaning around

         the den and, lo and behold, the Victorian Ouija board.

___

At first they were surprised, Sue was a little amused

         while Daniel wore a perplexing grin.

They set up the board and were a bit confused

         when it spelled B – R – I – N- G – M – E – B – E – N.

Little Morbid Morgan was a melancholy lad

Other kids were merry, but Morgan’s heart was sad

His brain was always brooding on thoughts as black as coal

The only thing ‘twas darker than his mind ‘twas his soul

___

On the thirteenth of the month he’d sit beside a tomb

In an old forgotten graveyard surrounded by the gloom

He’d crank the rusty handle of a tiny music player

Then the touching, tinkling strains would drift upon the air

___

Somewhere out of the night an apparition would appear

A radiant, diaphanous figure who was draped in gossamer

She would float about the graves as little Morgan crooned,

“White Lady, could you, White Lady, would you, tell me of your doom?”

___

“It was in the dead of winter, the snow was falling down

Like little drops of clouds to form a blanket on the ground.

The people of the village were huddled with each other

The young Reverend Smythe had stopped to pray for Mother.”

___

“He sat and read his Bible and then he joined our meal

He told my worried father how his faith would help her heal.

He was smitten by my beauty and I by his charm

Before I knew what happened, he lured me to the barn.”

___

“The passions of the flesh overcame the strictures of the mind

His Anglican values gave way to pleasures for a time.

I was left defiled, the guilt would duly take its toll

Darkness and depression were like weights upon my soul.”

___

“Consumed by misery and ashamed for being so beguiled

 But the real scandal was when I found that I was with a child.

And all about the gossip started that descended upon me

The Reverend Smythe could not be charged, it must be sorcery.”

___

“They drug me through the village with curses that were vile,

Accused me of witchcraft and held a mockery of a trial.

And so it was, betrayed, abused and blighted in the soul,

I was made to pay the reverend’s sin upon the gallows’ pole.”

___

Little Morbid Morgan heaved a heavy sigh of grief

The White Lady’s tragedy was distressing and sad beyond belief

He watched her go back to her grave then he mused aloud,

“Life is futile and so unfair, we wrapped within her shroud.

___

“With its heartache and its heartbreak through pain and through strife

I take solace in this knowledge; I know that I’m alive!”

Morgan rose and sauntered on, of course his heart was sad

For Morbid Morgan always was a melancholy lad.